Site-specific chromosomal gene insertion: Flp recombinase versus Cas9 nuclease


Site-specific recombination systems like those based on the Flp recombinase proved themselves as efficient tools for cell line engineering. The recent emergence of designer nucleases, especially RNA guided endonucleases like Cas9, has considerably broadened the available toolbox for applications like targeted transgene insertions. Here we established a recombinase-mediated cassette exchange (RMCE) protocol for the fast and effective, drug-free isolation of recombinant cells. Distinct fluorescent protein patterns identified the recombination status of individual cells. In derivatives of a CHO master cell line the expression of the introduced transgene of interest could be dramatically increased almost 20-fold by subsequent deletion of the fluorescent protein gene that provided the initial isolation principle. The same master cell line was employed in a comparative analysis using CRISPR/Cas9 for transgene integration in identical loci. Even though the overall targeting efficacy was comparable, multi-loci targeting was considerably more effective for Cas9-mediated transgene insertion when compared to RMCE. While Cas9 is inherently more flexible, our results also alert to the risk of aberrant recombination events around the cut site. Together, this study points at the individual strengths in performance of both systems and provides guidance for their appropriate use.
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